Renfield (2023) Review!!

Synopsis – Dracula’s henchman, Renfield, wonders what life would be like without serving his dark master.

My Take – Though he continues to remain a cultural icon, for some time now Count Dracula as a character has been having a tough time at the movies. The Twilight series, despite being a money spinner, was tedious and emotionally soulless, the animated Hotel Transylvania Series finally lost its charm with the fourth installment, and while Dracula: Untold (2014) dripped with potential, it ended up being a largely forgettable action blockbuster.

But what certainly amped up the hype for this latest rendition was the fact it cast Nicholas Cage as the blood-sucking vampire. While the infamous star has seen many ups and downs in his career, the basic notion of seeing his take on Dracula certainly has its own allure.

Even though as the title suggests, the spotlight here has been shifted to Dracula’s long-time servant, Renfield, who seems to be stuck in a co-dependent relationship with him, and presents the Prince Of Darkness as the worst boss in the world, all in effort to offer a refreshing twist on the age-old story.

Leaning into self-aware humor and gory slapstick rather than the usual spooky gothic picture, the Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie, The Tomorrow War) directorial luckily ends up being hilarious and horrifying in equal measure, inspiring laughs and gasps at the same time.

Clocking in at a cool 95 minutes, the film written by Ryan Ridley and Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) is rife with substantial violence, emphatic towards discussion of trauma, and cruises smoothly through its three acts, never overstaying its welcome in any specific scene. That’s not to say any aspect is rushed, either. As director McKay makes the most out of every moment, balancing some heavier conversations with high-octane action and gore.

Sure, the film has drawn criticism for its thin plot, occasionally rushed exposition, and cookie-cutter villains, but it is also obvious that everyone involved are clearly having a blast in creating this cheerfully disposable entertainment that understands that sometimes all you want it is well-wrought absurdity.

Elevated by the performances of its main cast, it’s tightly paced, appropriately tongue-in-cheek, action-packed, and surprisingly boasts of a good amount of heart.

Beginning with an amusing prologue that digitally inserts both stars into the vintage, black-and-white staging of filmmaker Tod Browning‘s Dracula (1931), the story follows Robert Montague Renfield (Nicholas Hoult), a century-old real estate agent, who initially met Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage), the Transylvanian vampire, with the hope to broker a deal for some land.

But upon proving to be a useful assistant, he ended up becoming Dracula’s familiar, allowing him to become immortal and gaining super strength and speed whenever he consumes bugs, thus beginning a decades-long toxic relationship. Now left with no friends or love life, Renfield spends his free time listening to sob stories at co-dependency groups.

However, he gets a new lease on life when the two are forced to relocate to New Orleans following yet another run-in with vampire hunters and a burst of sunlight that left Dracula burnt, weak, and diminished. Though Renfield tries to do some good by only bringing Dracula bad guys to eat, his chance run in with Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), an incorruptible traffic cop, gives him a notion to take back his life. Even if it puts him on the radar of the Lobo crime family, led by matriarch Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her bumbling son Ted (Ben Schwartz).

This classic macabre is a fresh take on the timeless tale. It’s outrageous, as intended. Funny, in a sick way. It combines the 1920s look of Dracula with a modern twist brought to life that never feels unwanted or rushed.

Better yet, the film manages to maintain a steady tone as it churns out buckets of blood, prolonged shootouts, epic fistfights, rolling heads, a budding love story, loads of cocaine, corrupt cops, exploding bodies, scenery-chewing performances, mommy issues, and a surprisingly inspirational message into a lean 95 minutes.

It’s gloriously gratuitous slapstick. Here, director Chris McKay is operating at the height of his powers here, even with more mature material. Yes, not every single joke lands, some fall flat, but the film is a lot of fun, especially when it leans into how goofy the premise allows it to be.

Mainly when the film mixes understated comedy with cartoonish violence, which works to inspire laughs and gasps. For fans of comedic brutality, this is the film for you. The film holds nothing back, maximizing its R rating by executing some absolutely ruthless kills. As you’d expect from a film originated from a story by Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead zombie franchise. Also, Dracula’s grotesque visage, decaying in reverse as he gathers strength, is a prosthetics triumph, and in one fight scene our hero rips an opponent’s arms from his torso then uses the severed limbs as clubs to batter his next victim.

However, the biggest success comes in its performances. Nicholas Hoult delivers a funny and endearing performance. Cementing his skills at comedy and makes Renfield’s lack of confidence and journey to find it is just really endearing. Awkwafina is equally strong when it comes to comedy and offers her a few dramatic moments as well.

Ben Schwartz completely buys into the chaotic and borderline campy nature of his role, while Shohreh Aghdashloo is an unexpected highlight in her supporting part, living up the underhanded menace of a matriarch mob boss. Adrian Martinez, Bess Rous, Brandon Scott Jones, James Moses Black and Camille Chen are effective in other roles.

Unsurprisingly, the strongest aspect of the whole film is Nicolas Cage. He brings the Cage elements you expect whilst still having an intimidating presence. He is wholly reveling in the ham-handed theatricality and chewing of scenery as Dracula. On the whole, ‘Renfield’ is a gory yet endearing comedy horror that delivers a refreshing and entertaining twist on the Dracula story.

Directed –

Starring – Nicolas Cage, Nicholas Hoult, Awkwafina

Rated – R

Run Time – 95 minutes

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